Tag Archives: Arts sponsorship

Flash-spill at British Museum as BP sponsorship under attack

In the same way that tobacco companies eventually had to face that they could no longer maintain an image of philanthropy while securing massive cheap advertising through sponsorship, nearly a decade later, the tide is turning against oil companies, and BP in particular.

The actual worth of individual sponsorship deals is a closely-guarded secret, and indeed the subject of scrutiny in the High Court last week under a Freedom of Information challenge from Request Initiative. But BP has admitted to giving around £2 million pounds split between the Royal Opera House, the Tate galleries, the National Portrait Gallery, and the British Museum. This is the amount of profit generated in about an hour and a half according to record profit figures announced this week.

So what do they get for this drop in the ocean? Well, first is a massive amount of tax-free and cheap advertising, plastering their brand all over events, merchandise, and banners. Second, a profound greenwashing effect, as their brand becomes associated with high-end art and beautiful spaces, rather than with global tax-avoidance, and the pollution, destruction and mayhem caused by their true core business.

Campaigners point out that if oil companies paid fair taxes, the arts could easily be adequately funded and sponsorship would become unnecessary. And it seems more and more people are agreeing with them. The tide is turning against the fossil fuel industry in just the same way that it did against tobacco a decade and more ago.

With the recent US court verdict that BP was ‘grossly negligent’ and its ‘recklessness’ caused the deaths of 11 workers at the Deepwater Horizon disaster in April 2010, arts activist group “BP or not BP” attracted support from some London Quakers as well as meditation activists “Dharma Action Network for Engaging Climate (DANCE)” to perform a “flash-spill” at the British Museum on Sunday morning ahead of the massive People’s Climate March.

After laying a large shiny oil-spill (made from cloth) in front of the entrance to the BP-sponsored Ming exhibition, they performed a short tableau about the Deepwater Horizon disaster, comprising spoken verses about the effects of oil spill interspersed with the chorus:
BP is guilty of gross negligence, why does the British Museum stand by? BP is guilty of gross negligence, why is this museum promoting its lies?

After laying 11 flowers for the 11 human victims of BP negligence, and depicting the wildlife and other workers affected, they were joined by the meditation and Quaker supporters and sat in silence for 11 minutes.

After a peaceful exit, they posed with their ‘slick’ for more press photos on the steps of the museum, before joining the Climate March in Viking garb (a reference to a previous protest performance).

Earlier in the week, the BP-sponsored Royal Opera House big screen live projection in Trafalgar Square was interrupted by an activist dance and chanting, and the previous week, what at first appeared to be a huge art installation in Tate Modern’s Turbine hall turned out to be a protest about Tate’s refusal to comply with a Freedom of Information request about BP sponsorship.

With all this attention, despite record profits, BP must be beginning to feel the strain.

If you want to help force BP out of the arts, then look at bp-or-not-bp.org for some simple ideas of actions you can take.


Activists dance at BP Big Screen event

Yesterday evening, activists from @BPOutOfOpera targeted a ‘BP Big Screen’ event at Trafalgar Square, London.

Minutes before the Royal Opera House live broadcast, they performed a symbolic dance in which culture eventually overcomes oil sponsorship.

The action passed off peacefully and got a warm reception from the audience in the packed square on an Indian Summer evening.

‘BP Out of Opera” are one of many groups targeting BP’s greenwash sponsorship of the arts.

For much less money than the equivalent in commercial advertising, oil companies plaster their logo over exhibitions and events (last night giving everyone a free and brightly logo-ed baseball cap), while also cleaning up their image by associating themselves with public art.

Meanwhile those same corporations dodge tax and receive public subsidies on a huge scale – money that would easily cover the sponsorship deals many times over and help pay for education, welfare and health.

Art institutions are very secretive about the level of sponsorship they receive, and currently there is a high court case against Tate to try to uncover the figure, thought to be as little as half a per cent of the gallery’s budget.

BP has recently been declared guilty of ‘gross negligence’ by a US judge over the Deepwater Horizon oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico, which caused huge environmental damage and killed 11 workers.

By showing up at galleries and events, groups like BP Out Of Opera remind the public that BP are not such nice art sponsors, and that the Arts would be better off without them.

Hidden figures and black squares at Tate Modern

On Thursday a New Orleans judge found BP guilty of gross negligence over their Deepwater Horizon oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico. Although the trial also involved contractors Halliburton and Transocean, US District Judge Carl Barbier singled out BP for their “recklessness” and he placed most of the blame on them.

In London, art activists ‘Liberate Tate’ have long campaigned against Tate Modern’s association with BP, and this weekend saw their latest bold action in the Turbine Hall of the museum.

Later this month, Tate Modern faces a court appearance themselves in front of the Information Commissioner over their refusal to disclose how much money they actually receive from BP. The Tate Modern governors’ meeting minutes, requested under the Freedom of Information rules by Liberate Tate, were heavily redacted with black squares.

Ironic then that a black square is on display at the gallery as part of their Malevich exhibition.

Playing with the interconnected themes, yesterday’s art activism began at 1pm with a huge 8 x 8 metre black square of cloth pulled out from a conveniently placed child’s pram.

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Black clad performers then raised the cloth, and over the course of the next couple of hours, continually played with it, often lowering it on teams of choreographed people to create various shapes.

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The installation attracted much public interest, and spontaneous choreography was encouraged. It was also a magnet for children who enjoyed the spectacle and immersed themselves in the tactile darkness under the material.

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There were no fliers and no chants – this was a subtle and arty protest only explained by a small information board in the style of Tate Modern info plaques, that offered up the piece as “Hidden Figures (2014)” and neatly explained how the museum tries to hide its figures re sponsorship (currently believed to be around just half a per cent of the gallery’s budget). While much of the public may have thought the piece was a commissioned work, I am sure the symbolism and press coverage will come over loud and clear to the gallery’s governors.

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Towards the end of the performance, the artists (and public) layed down in a square under the cloth, and then it was removed and dragged up the slope, leaving a square of silent bodies who arose one by one and quietly left.

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‘Liberate Tate’ believe it is time for Tate Modern to disassociate itself from the criminally negligent polluters, BP.

Remember 11 innocent workers met their death in the Gulf.

Back with a little film about BP sponsorship of the arts

After a busy time and an untended blog, I return with news of a lovely action by the “Art Not Oil” coalition at the National Portrait Gallery.

Tonight, the gallery is celebrating its 25th year of BP sponsorship of the Portrait Awards, and to mark this sorry milestone in green-washing, we launch our short film of the serene “25 Portraits In Oil” action that took place in the gallery at the weekend.


‘Art Not Oil’ staged a peaceful visual protest at the National Portrait Gallery at the weekend.

While BP are celebrating their long association with the gallery, Archbishop Desmond Tutu says:

“Twenty-five years ago people could be excused for not knowing much, or doing much, about climate change. Today we have no excuse.
Those companies primarily responsible for emitting carbon and accelerating climate change are simply not going to give up. They need a whole lot of gentle persuasion from the likes of us.
We can encourage our universities and municipalities and cultural institutions to cut their ties to the fossil-fuel industry”.

Sponsorship arrangements with prestigious art institutions provide oil companies with an image of being “good corporate citizens” while in reality their main business model depends on destroying a safe and habitable climate for all of us.

The amount of finance they contribute to institutions is actually tiny in terms of overall budgets, and if oil companies paid their taxes without huge subsidies and massive loopholes, the money raised would hugely exceed the small contributions the oil companies make in return for their and apparent generosity.

Web: artnotoil.org.uk
Twitter: @artnotoil | #BPPortrait
Facebook: End oil-sponsorship of the Arts

Activist film spoofs BP-sponsored Viking exhibition at British Museum

On the 24th March, as the British Museum promoted its Viking exhibition in cinemas around the country using the #VikingsLive hashtag, activists hijacked the twittersphere and sent around 1300 visitors to my spoof film highlighting BP’s greenwash.

A few weeks ago, I came across the British Museum’s short promo film for their flagship “Vikings” exhibition. I was annoyed that the end of the film sported the BP logo as sponsor, especially after discovering that the actual amount this destructive oil corporation gave was just a miniscule 1% of the museum’s annual budget – for which they get an enormous amount of cheap publicity and greenwash.

So, I wondered if there was a way to undermine BP’s cynical marketing ploy by spoofing the film. The idea took on a life of its own when various people came together to help me, and I became director, cameraman, editor, and composer, aided by a dedicated small team of actors, make-up, costume and props folk. We filmed the ‘BP Vikings’ in an occupied fitness centre in Camden, where the squatters kindly gave us use of their hall to hang up a huge green screen for the shoot. Background scenes were filmed in Brighton and North London, and after some compositing and additional graphics, the 75 second spoof was finished.

On Thursday 24th April, the British Museum promoted its exhibition with a live walk-through at 70 cinemas. As a result of activists’ use of the #VikingsLive hashtag, around 1300 visitors watched the video on that day alone.

ORIG FILM:  http://britishmuseum.org/vikings
– Shortlink:  http://is.gd/L4VJAT

SPOOF FILM:  http://vimeo.com/92032352
– Shortlink:  http://is.gd/C0frhJ